Translating Your Military Experience into Civilian Language: A Six-Step Process

You should follow a six-step translation process to convert your military experience into language that civilian employers will readily understand, thus improving your chances for an invitation to a job interview.

Step 1

On a sheet of paper, write down your military assignments in reverse chronological order as if you were doing a chronological resume. Under each of those assignments, describe what you did in detail.

Across from each skill, describe how you applied the skill to accomplish a given task or project. Where possible, accentuate the content-specific (as opposed to transferable) skills or knowledge you applied in the performance of your military duties.

Step 2

Based on the job-seeking research you have performed to date, make a list of the required skills or experience in which prospective employers in your chosen civilian career field have interest. Here is where your informational interviewing and other networking activities pay dividends.

Because you have thoroughly researched those civilian occupations, you will know the types of skills, knowledge, and experience that hiring managers seek. If such is not the case, you might consider doing some additional research, perhaps by contacting an association in the desired industry, to better understand the language and skills relevant to individuals working in your chosen career field.

Step 3

On another page, list your military skills in the left column and the needed civilian skills in the right. Now compare the items on these two lists. Can you connect any of the items on the first list to those on the second?

If not, is it a problem of semantics (different words but similar meanings) or is it the case that you simply do not currently have the skills required? If the latter, you might consider obtaining additional training or schooling either on a part or full time basis. (Donít forget to explore your military service connected education benefits!)

Step 4

Once you have matched items in the left and right columns, return to the detailed experience chronology you created in Step 1. For those military skills that relate to the civilian occupations in which you are interested, carefully revise your documented skills and experience by incorporating appropriate civilian expressions that relate to what you did in the military.

Your objective is to accurately and honestly restate your military experience using language that civilian hiring managers will understand. Wherever you used military acronyms or unique expressions in Step 1, consider how you can restate the information in a more industry-relevant way without losing the meaning or impact of your experience.

Step 5

Show this revised write-up to civilian friends and colleagues who are currently working in your employment field(s) of interest. Ask them to objectively critique your write-up and evaluate whether it conveys your qualifications in terms relevant to their industry.

When they are done, don't forget to send them a thank-you note expressing your appreciation for the time and effort expended on your behalf. Such thoughtfulness will keep you remembered in a positive way.

Step 6

Continually refine this document by incorporating the comments received in the previous step. The finished document should clearly and accurately portray your qualifications in terms appropriate to your targeted industry. Keep this document - it is the WORK HISTORY section of your resume.

If you follow these six steps, we're confident that you will have succeeded in translating your military experience into civilian terms - and increasing your chances of landing that coveted position in the civilian sector.

SOURCE: Adapted from Carl S. Savino, Major, USAR (Ret.), and Ronald L. Krannich, Ph.D., Military-to-Civilian Resumes and Letters (Manassas Park: Impact Publications). Copyright 2007. All rights reserved.